The drugs start kicking in almost immediately. Coming up I think is the phrase. I can tell I’m slightly off when I immediately rip open the wrapper of the granola bar before the guy even hands me my change, I’m not hungry I’ve just forgotten the order in which I would usually do things. I can’t really eat it anyway, I take a couple of unpleasant bites and stash it in my purse. Emma is chewing gum, and I take a piece too; it’s a weird experience, such a strong chemical flavor as the texture changes from a dry crumble to a rubbery blob. We had to get gum because last time Emma chewed the shit out of the insides of her cheeks and was in pain for days after, accidentally biting them again when she would eat. It’s so like her, I realize, she can’t just grind her teeth like the rest of us, she has to push it to a more extreme level until it hurts.
The best part of coming up is the sensation of a great deal of pain sliding off of me like snow off a sloping roof on a sunny winter day, the kind of day that makes you think spring is going to come after all. It hits the ground with a whumph and leaves a few trickling drips of water behind. I feel my spine straightening out by itself, everything about me becoming effortlessly longer, as if gravity has relented a tiny bit, life releasing its hanging hold on the fronts of my shoulders and my pelvis. I have become so comfortable in this discomfort, shifting around it, muscling through it, it’s not until it evaporates that I realize how heavy it was. How heavy I was.
The stamp they give us at the door says Daddy.
The club is a mermaid cave. The light shifts in jewel tones like it’s being moved by water, and everyone’s skin is a cool pink, otherworldly. The music and the voices are a wash of sound, something that touches me and supports me, pressing against the sides of my body, the meaning ambiguous. The walls of the bathroom are crusted in pearls, and everyone glitters, my pupils dilating like a sigh of pleasure to absorb more and more. Whoever stands near me is my friend. Emma is energized, excited, she feels like a fishing bird, her eyes cutting in different directions, her body slicing through the liquid around us. She’s wearing a pink slippery dress that clings and folds like a sheath of skin, with her shorn head and wide open eyes she looks like she’s just arrived, a galactic egg fell here and broke apart and she emerged sparkling from the pink goo, delighted by the world. She has limited time before her own kind finds her and takes her back to assume her queenly duties, but she’s getting some practice here with us; the fabric of existence attaches softly to her body and streams out from her, when she moves it swirls and tugs, and she laughs as people are helplessly drawn in and danced about. I’m aware of a deep exhaustion in my body, beneath the soda bubbles of the drugs, and I find myself assuming a familiar role now wherein I am the watcher, quiet and slow, looking out from deep inside myself and watching Emma play.
I want to dance she says, and we float into the main room, which is full of mermaids. One of the dancers whips her hair and gold glitter floods the air, coming from her head, from her thoughts, raining down on us, I stand perfectly still looking up at her with my mouth open; turning to Emma, we have the same expression of wonder, wordless sounds of joy. I feel my soul reaching up to the dancers as my body roots itself in stillness. Emma and I sink into each other, faces touching, mushing, and it feels like being in the center of many overlapping currents, effortlessly held in place. The water of the music fills my ears and softens everything, it doesn’t feel loud, it’s dampened here in the center of the universe with Emma, who looks up at me and says I’m so in love with you Alex and I say me too Emma and there has never been a more beautiful sight to me than her face, up close, I am recalled to every time I have truly seen her face, when the drugs have stripped the confusion away and I remember, again, the truth. Your happiness is my happiness, I tell her, We’re soul mates she says, and it’s funny because we are yelling to each other, shouting into each other’s faces, our expressions crinkling and contorting from the edges inward, eyebrows creating the punctuation for the things we feel, and as far as I am concerned there is nothing else in this room or in the world, just a gentle background like a stretched quilt for us to bounce on, we catch each other close and kiss and Emma says No matter what, we’ll stay together.
She says I’m proud of you.
She gets up on the stage to dance, and sometimes I am up there with her, sometimes I am standing in the crowd, but either way my purpose is to be there witnessing her; I realize that this is a purpose in my life, to bear witness to Emma’s journey, to her unfolding, to see the world through her eyes, my privilege. Everyone around us in the crowd loves her, and I am warmed by their appreciation for her.
How I search for love, how lost I become, how alone I allow myself to feel, when the love I crave has been here all along, and will always be here, and all I really have to do is stop looking. I spent the first three years of my life waiting for Emma to arrive. I don’t remember that time. I don’t remember a time before her. I don’t know myself without her. How is it possible that I spend so much time confused, the truth slipping away from me? How is it possible that I forget our life together, diving away from the pain of my memories and losing, in the running, the truth and beauty of my existence? How is it possible that I keep turning to men to absolve the missing piece of my soul, deepening my wounds with every iteration, when I already know real love? Need to remember, need to remember, I know the clarity will slip away again, who knows how long I will have it this time around, but this is the most conscious it has ever been, so maybe this time it will last a little bit longer before I get lost again. Maybe each time it will last a little bit longer, and that’s the most I can hope for.
Walking home, we are mechanical, wearied, coming to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk to internally wind ourselves up again, propelling our bodies forward toward home. Emma isn’t ready to go back there so we compromise, I assure her she can sleep in my room (I don’t want to go into the cave she tells me anxiously) I roll a joint of her weed and we creep up onto the roof, sitting across from each other at the table. I’m so exhausted I can’t even imagine taking a shower, but we can’t go to bed all covered in glitter, and Emma assures me it’s gonna be ok. I can barely keep my eyes open. I feel like I’ve finally come home, to myself, to Emma, to the truth, and now my body and soul knows how tired it is from dragging my burdens around all the time.
Then the magic happens, another deep level of the magic. The stamps that say Daddy have vanished from our wrists at some point in the night, and I am starting to cry, at last, I’m crying and speaking the truth, it’s flowing out of me with no effort, the relief is immense. “We had the best intentions, and I love him, and I will always love him. It’s all very confusing…I wonder how many more times I will have to do this, put myself through this, live out my narrative again only to realise, again,
that I don’t want to abused,
I just want to be loved.
And I already am loved.”
I get involved in someone and it feels so right, it feels like coming home, like everything is being healed, and it takes some time to figure out that the reason it feels so right is because it is so familiar, it’s the next cycle of my pattern, the story I have been living out since I was a child, the story of love as a punishment, the story of powerlessness, and I plunge into it headfirst, whole-hearted, and then I’m angry with the other person because somehow it’s their fault, when really there was never any other way it was going to go because the story is so deep and I choose it, I am twined up in it like the limbs of a lover, for some reason I want it, I need it, even though from deep inside me I am looking out and screaming, screaming, let it end, please, please, please stop doing it, let me out.
And right now, it is over. I am free. I will become lost again, but right now, with the tears pouring out of me, with the truth pouring out of me, Emma witnessing me, it’s all over. It’s ok. I have stopped hurting myself. I am love, and that’s all I am. This is the moment. I may not be able to stay here, but I am here now. I can’t ask for more than that. I can’t ask for more than what is.
My heart is broken, and now love can pour in and out.
Emma has absorbed all my exhaustion now. Now she is the one who can barely keep her eyes open. I have unburdened myself, and she has generously taken it on for me. That’s what we do. We pass it back and forth. Now I am coaching her, we can do it, we can go downstairs and take a shower. We make a plan, I’ll shower first while she takes off her makeup. I end up sitting on the toilet watching her kneel in front of the mirror on the bathroom door and wipe the glitter off her eyes. She says I’m so glad this is becoming an activity. I say This bathroom has never looked so beautiful. She says I haven’t been spending enough time doing mundane things as a pair and a thousand memories crash into me, my life as a unit with her, and the times I’ve tried to recreate that bond with someone else. I say I like when we brush our teeth together. I turn on the water and Emma melts onto the bathroom floor as steam starts to pillow up by the ceiling, I rub her back and thank her for absorbing all my feelings, I tell her I’m sorry for putting it all on her and tell her I feel so alleviated and she groans facedown into the tiles I’m glad. I’m so glad and the whole scene is so funny we are carried off on a wave of laughter. We shower together, and Emma is chirping incessantly, I know she is saying words but I don’t know what they are, I am quiet and her voice is like a music, and this too is so familiar, when we were little she would get so mad at me for not listening, while for me her voice was a stream of sound that I didn’t understand and was comforted by, it just was, it just is.
Alone in the bathroom I think about Sarah, how we fell in love when I moved to the city and she took me in, and I remember how we would question that love, searching for a word to describe what we felt, and someone else would insist well you’re just really good friends but we knew it was more than that, deeper, not exactly sexual but deeply intimate, and now I realize that the word we needed was sister.
In my bed, we try to settle. Emma comes to rest with her arms around a pillow, her face turned toward me, eyes closed and smiling a tiny smile. I see her so clearly and vividly it takes my breath away, and without thinking I start to softly describe her. At first I’m only offering a sentence or two…but then each one lends itself to another, and then it’s just coming out of me, as natural as breathing,
I can see you so clearly. You’re lying on a bed of moss that’s growing on a jutting rock ledge. There are vines hanging down from the rock and trickles of water dripping down, filtering through the moss. And the moss…is so…soft. There is a lot of sunlight, but it’s coming through trees, horizontally, behind you, so you’re lit up with gold edges. It’s evening. Your hair is brown, and your freckles are more pronounced, and you have glistening small wings, and…oh…you have little horns too. Look at that. You spent the day in the woods, doing something fun. You were doing something important…but fun…and now you’re so tired and so…comfortable. You’re so content.
With each addition to the vision, Emma makes a tiny sound of happiness, and it sharpens what I’m seeing. A bird comes and looks at her. It hangs on a vine with both feet and tilts its head back and forth. The energy changes with him, the faintest wrinkle appears in her brow, actually there is no wrinkle it’s just a feeling. But the bird doesn’t wake her up. It looks around and then disappears in a flurry of feathers. She sinks deeper into her rest.
There are tiny flowers like stars in the moss and they touch your skin…so…gently…in the breeze. You are starting to dream…as you close your eyes to this world you are waking up in something so…beautiful….and you know when the dream is over you will never be able to really describe the beauty of what you have experienced. But you will try…you will search for words and even as you use the words you will feel so much being left out…no one will know exactly what it is you see…but that will be ok…because right now, you are in it. And you will know….
that any time you need to, you can close your eyes…
and wake up in this dream again…
because this wordless beauty is who you are.
Night is falling around you, and the stars are glittering all over you. You can feel their sparkling light raining down on you so…softly…
Two tears have sneaked from beneath Emma’s eyelids. She says That is so beautiful Alex. I could see it, I mean, I could feel it, as you were saying it, I was really there.
I know you were Emma, I tell her. I can see that. I can see it very clearly.